Most Maltese know one fact on drug traffickers in prison. The fact that these are, in nearly all cases the small fish in the drug business. Mostly couriers who take huge risk and long prison sentences for little financial profit or drug addicts peddling some drugs to finance their own habit. Most of us know that a kingpin, those getting rich from drug trafficking, rarely ever get caught, let alone convicted.

What most Maltese don’t know is the other fact which is, to put it mildly, much scarier. What many don’t know is that there are people in our prisons who never made a single Euro out of drugs serving a sentence for drug trafficking.

How could this be possible?

Simple. In Malta (contrary to practically all other EU countries and, above all, common sense), sharing is dealing. When two or more people share say, a joint or a stash of heroin they’re not only committing the offence of drug use but also of trafficking – with each other.

This is why, for instance, Daniel Holmes who was never convicted of selling a single milligram of cannabis or that he had the intention to do so, has drug trafficking among his convictions. A charge on which the prosecution had originally asked for life imprisonment.

Daniel Holmes did not cultivate cannabis plants on his own but with a friend. The other guy, called Barry Lee, committed suicide in custody as soon as he came to know what a long term prison sentence he was facing. The plants belonged to both.

When both Daniel Holmes and Barry Lee admitted that they were using the same plants, little did they know that they were admitting to drug trafficking. Daniel Holmes was charged with trafficking with Barry Lee while Barry Lee was charged with trafficking with Daniel Holmes.

The case of Daniel Holmes is one I’m very familiar with. But I’m completely sure there are other people in Maltese prisons serving a sentence on drug trafficking without having ever even considered making money out of drug dealing.

Our laws are so absurd that the following scenario is possible:

A is a drug dealer while B is simply a consumer. A buys the drugs, sells them to B and asks the latter to roll a joint, which he does. They share that joint and get caught red handed smoking it.

A, being a drug dealer thus more street-wise denies everything except for smoking a joint. B, who is greener on these things and gets terrified by the police barking in his face says the truth and admits he actually did roll a joint and give it to A.

With a confession being the most powerful evidence against you and A being street-savvy hiring a good, expensive lawyer, there is the possibility that B goes to jail for drug trafficking while A gets a conditional discharge or a suspended sentence for simple possession.

Advertisements

I’ve been harping against Malta’s rainbow parties (hence PNPL) that promise everything to everyone, attempting to please all, for a long while by now.

Obviously pleasing everyone is logically impossible when it comes to enacting laws. That is, unless you manage to dupe all sides that you are actually giving them something.

I’ve also been harping many times against Malta’s irrational, unsustainable and utterly cruel laws on drugs. At this very moment, people who harmed no one are rotting in our prisons, at the expense of the taxpayer.

Thus, with national elections in sight, Justice Minister Chris Said, threw a bone at those outraged by our oppressive laws on drugs.

First-time drug users arrested for simple possession will be able to avoid court!

Huh? The bone has no juice at all. Well OK, it will save them the lawyer fees. Otherwise this law changes nothing.

Why?

In practically all cases, people arrested for the first time for simple possession get, at worst, conditional discharge. No prison. No fine. And the police conduct will become clean after the term of the conditional discharge is over. In most cases, for such a minor offence this means in less than a year.

What makes this legal amendment nothing more than a gimmick, is the word “simple” before the word possession.

Contrary to popular belief, simple possession and personal use are not the same thing by Maltese law. Yes, people who never sold a single gram of any illegal drug can – and are being – accused and convicted of crimes the equivalent of trafficking. Crimes that carry a minimum effective prison sentence – in other words a sentence that cannot be suspended, or even changed for work in the community!

How? The following cases of possession of drugs fall in this category. They may be cases of possession but it is not “simple”.

1) Cultivation: Any kind of cultivation of illegal drugs (the most common being cannabis) is punished with an effective prison sentence. Even if the amount is so small that when consumed doesn’t even get your cat high. If it’s in a pot and grows from a seed, that’s cultivation. You’re going to jail.

2) Import/Export: If, while getting high in Amsterdam you forgot to throw all the stuff away before boarding the plane. If you left some weed by mistake, or intended to smoke it at home. Even if, once again, the amount is miniscule, that’s still not simple possession. That’s import. You’re going to jail.

3) Sharing: Most drug users share drugs. Cannabis users pass a spliff around. Heroin addicts sometimes share the same spoon and needle (which is very dangerous, but goes beyond the purpose of this article). Friends may buy LSD or Ecstasy together and share it. No intent for profit, nothing more than the equivalent of “ghamillu drink” at the bar. If the police want to seek the pound of flesh and are able to prove it is not simple possession. It’s sharing. You’re going to jail.

People are, at this very moment in prison because their possession was “aggravated” due to of one of the reasons above. And after this legal amendment, this gimmick, passes, people guilty of these offences, will keep on going to jail. It changes nothing.

There are, obviously other serious anomalies in our laws on drugs which are not being addressed. Repeated offenders of even simple possession can and do get imprisoned. There is also no classification between soft and hard drugs which gives an incentive for dealers to import hard drugs, where the big money is. Not to mention the fact that punishment for anything related to drugs is disproportionately harsh especially when compared to violent crime.

But even on the issue that this law is supposed to address – not sending first time drug users to jail – this law changes nothing. The ones affected by this law are the ones who wouldn’t have been going to jail anyway.

“End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others” Primary recommendation of the Global Commission on Drug Policy

I met David Caruana at a café a few months ago primarily for the reason that we share similar political beliefs, one of them being the war on drugs. There are many instances where we disagreed including on this issue. While for example, he prefers the Dutch model of legalizing cannabis, I find the Portuguese model of decriminalizing the personal use of drugs much more attractive.

One of the things struck me about David is the honesty and passion with which he discusses the issue – the kind that many politicians try to imitate but never seem to get right.

While I had assumed he probably had smoked some weed, when he told me he had a pending case on the cultivation of two cannabis plants I was shocked. Shocked, not because the person in front of me was arduous enough to go beyond cultivating tomatoes and basil, but because I knew that in Malta’s criminal code, cultivating cannabis is the equivalent of trafficking. Even if the intent of that cultivation is nothing more than personal consumption, which I know is the case here.

This came at a time when I was researching about the issue which included reading the document quoted above

http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Report

 

Together with other literature, this document doesn’t consider drugs of whatever kind as ideal and healthy. Far from that. However it highlights how much the war on drugs has not only failed but become an added problem. When President Nixon declared the “war on drugs” it was assumed that within a few years the supply of drugs would be eradicated, globally. Unfortunately, thanks to the lack of a parallel “war on corruption” the supply of drugs not only wasn’t curbed but multiplied, reaching alarming levels Nixon could have never even predicted.

Thus the war changed. The Pablo Escobars around the world had no intention of quitting their trade, thus they bribed themselves our of it (At one point in time Escobar managed to bribe 2/3 of the Colombian parliament to change the country’s constitution so as not to permit his extradition to the US).

Helpless in front of these kingpins, a new enemy had to be found. The enemy was drug users, couriers and cultivators.* David Caruana is one of them.

I wasn’t just shocked when David told me about his pending case but also angry. Seriously angry because I knew that the main reason he will be prosecuted as a criminal with an effective prison sentence very likely is nothing more than a charade to cover up for people with Swiss accounts and villas in the Cayman islands. The ones who are pumping up the white or brown powder that’s driving an increasing number of Maltese people insane, have them commit crimes they would have never thought they’ll commit and die a premature death.

David Caruana is neither the first, nor will be the last victim of this senseless war on drug users. He is the first to go public and use his situation to highlight the faults in our system though. And for that he’s definitely got my full admiration.

*I still agree that those who carry or cultivate drugs for the consumption of others should be considered as committing a criminal offense. However, as the Global Commission report suggests the extremely harsh sentences these people are punished with is nothing more than a need to find a scapegoat.